School board addresses issues

Members look to foster communication

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— The Steamboat Springs School Board drafted the issues facing the district and began to find resolutions at Wednesday night's board meeting.

"There are so many issues," school board President Paul Fishe said. "I think there are distinct separate issues. We might find out that different stakeholders are involved in different issues."

Fisher said the personnel issue regarding Strawberry Park Elementary Principal John DeVincentis is an issue of confidentiality that the board has taken action to resolve. The agreement to a mediator is the next step to resolve the controversy between DeVincentis, the board and Superintendent Cyndy Simms. Fisher said the board meetings held last Thursday and the current board meeting discussion were meant to discuss issues present in the district aside from the DeVincentis controversy.

Parents for Dr. D chairman Jim Swiggart said the committee is awaiting the school board to take action and implement a survey of the certified staff. He said the communication mechanisms between the board and community needs to be improved so no unnecessary misunderstandings arise.

DeVincentis said he appreciated board member Tom Sharp's willingness to listen to all the concerns parents had at Thursday's meeting. He said the large number of people waiting to speak out "showed (the board's) lack of communication or willingness to listen."

He said the board wouldn't have people questioning its actions if it had the trust of the parents and staff. Fisher said people are welcome to comment about the DeVincentis controversy but the board has taken the next step to resolve the issue.

The areas the board members addressed included the administrative team's recommendations for quarterly meetings with the board and for board members and Simms to visit the schools on a regular basis, implementing a survey of the superintendent and state of the district by the certified staff, having a policy review committee to streamline current policies, whether a board member should have a position on the collaborative bargaining team, clarification of the appeals process, pay for performance, teachers not feeling empowered, policies "putting people down" and trust.

The board invited the idea of having quarterly meetings with the administrative team to discuss ongoing issues in the district. Roberta Gill, representative of the administrative team, presented the board with recommendations for improving communication. The meetings would allow the administrative team to ask the board questions to stimulate discussion and lead to clearer communication between both groups.

Having the board members in the schools is something Mike Smith, president of the Steamboat Springs Education Association, said that all teachers would like to see.

"Directly tell teachers why you made a decision," he said to the board. "Part of the problem is education; people mistakenly believe Cyndy makes all the decisions."

The board proposed the administrative team and SSEA present issues to the board during study sessions, a more informal school board meeting where issues are discussed before board members take action at the next meeting.

Pam Brandt, secretary at Strawberry Park Elementary, said, "When you walk into school, the atmosphere is totally different than anything I can tell you." She recommended that one school board member should be present for one day every month or every other month in the four different schools in the district.

Steamboat Springs High School Vice Principal Mike Knezevich said the high school has an open campus policy and board members and community members are welcome at any time. Fisher said he would like more guidance because the board does not want to disrupt classrooms or visit a classroom if the visit makes staff members or teachers uncomfortable.

Other mechanisms discussed that the board felt would help foster communication between the board, teachers and community include outlining the process for communicating with the board, reorganizing the district Web site to make access to board contact information easier and posting board meetings on the Web site as well as meeting minutes.

Some community members present at the meeting felt more notice of the school board meeting needed to be given to community members and staff so people could plan to attend if they had concerns to address with the board.

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